December 23, 2022

Open Letter from the Artists of the Kochi-Muziris Biennale 2022–23

Banner at Aspinwall, main venue of the Kochi-Muziris Biennale, December 2022.

We are invited artists of the 2022–23 edition of the Kochi-Muziris Biennale (KMB), which was officially postponed the night before the opening on December 12, 2022. This fifth edition of the Biennale—delayed twice due to the pandemic and four years in the making—has been a labor of love for many of us. It is now scheduled to open on December 23, 2022.

The KMB has been a unique space for creative expression, conversation, and dissent that we have come to value over the last ten years. Equally treasured is its diverse and engaged audience. However, we want to express our concern and shock at the way the Biennale has unfolded this year.

We write this letter in the spirit of wanting the KMB to thrive, as a forum for contemporary art and ideas. The experiences of the invited artists from this year and past editions offer an opportunity to radically transform the KMB as an event and institution—changes that are clearly, urgently needed.

We stand in solidarity with this edition’s curator, Shubigi Rao, who has worked through challenges well beyond her purview as curator. We also stand with all of the production workers, volunteers, electricians, carpenters, fabricators, and craftspeople who have brought their skills and energy to this year’s Biennale.

First, we must address the last-minute postponement of the Biennale’s main exhibition. As artists arrived for installation in the weeks and days prior to the opening, we were overwhelmed by many problems: shipments delayed in transit and at customs past the opening day; rain leaking into all the exhibition spaces, impacting equipment and artworks; a lack of steady electrical power; a shortage of equipment; and an insufficient workforce on all production teams.

Artists were drawn into daily struggles with the Biennale management, whose organizational shortcomings and lack of transparency had made a timely and graceful opening impossible long before it was postponed. The considerable challenges that participating artists would encounter upon arrival were never communicated, so none of us could make an informed decision as to whether to travel to Kochi or indeed to even participate under the circumstances. While artists produced projects in good faith, our commitment to the Biennale was not reciprocated, and responsibility for the many problems that surrounded it, evaded.

The day before the scheduled opening, less than ten percent of the exhibition was ready.

At 3:00 p.m. on the day before the official opening, the Biennale Foundation management invited those artists present in Kochi (about half of the total number invited) to an emergency meeting. The management informed us of their intention to delay the opening by a few days, but still open one of three venues despite the exhibiting artists clarifying that even this venue was not ready. We made clear our desire to stay united in the face of the challenges that many artists confronted in installing their work, and asked for a realistic date when production issues could be viably addressed and ALL venues could open together. After consulting with their production teams, the Foundation decided to postpone the opening to December 23, 2022.

We believe the Biennale Foundation should have made the decision to postpone weeks earlier, when many of the failures were already apparent—well before thousands of art-lovers travelled for the opening days, and most artists themselves had to return and could not stay on to see their own work installed or engage with the work of fellow artists and visitors.

Our overall analysis, drawn from many individual experiences, is that the way the KMB is currently organized hinders the artistic process, and closes opportunities for artists rather than enabling them. Concerns have been present in past editions as well, but they have become greater in this 2022–23 edition. The issues are organizational and systemic; what is important here is the Biennale’s ethical relation with artists and their work, including but not limited to transparency, accountability, and the duty of care. This is certainly not a problem exclusive to this Biennale alone.

We summarize below some of our understandings of how and why so many things have gone wrong here:

  1. Shockingly poor communication. Many of us had no replies to calls and emails over the course of months leading up to the Biennale’s opening, and there was little clarity about who was looking after what in Kochi. False commitments were continuously given; “it will happen tomorrow” was always said but not done. Rather than a frank and honest assessment and response to questions and issues raised by artists, empty promises were made.
  2. Opaque financial planning and last-minute fundraising. This led to delays and uncertainty in artist productions, and an inability to confirm materials and technical equipment for venues. Despite this edition taking place two years later than originally planned, funding, contracts, and financial planning have been chaotic. At the same time, forty new commissions were announced. The scale and ambition of the Biennale should be attuned to its financial situation. Institutional optimism that “it will all work out” is not a viable strategy for producing such an ambitious event, and artists and production staff should not bear an unreasonable burden for it.
  3. An absence of capable people at the appropriate time, despite the curator’s and artists’ constant calls to find them. Production teams were hired two, four, six, and eight weeks before the opening date. This led to innumerable problems, including unprepared exhibition sites, missing expertise to deal with international shipping, technical and AV issues, missing contracts, and a general lack of skill on hand in everything related to exhibiting artwork. A decade of experience did not translate into a better-prepared situation. While there are excellently organized events of this scale in Kerala, the Biennale Foundation has constantly shifted blame around rather than identifying and addressing actual causes.
  4. Production staff continually moved between various main Biennale and collateral and “invited” exhibition sites. The same teams of people installing across multiple venues meant that workers were regularly called away to deal with issues at sites far away, resulting in constant work stoppages and artists left stranded, waiting for things to resume.
  5. An unrealistic imaginary of an ideal Biennale. The KMB wants to project a large-scale event with all infrastructure and programs in place, even as the reality on the ground constantly recedes from this fantasy. This is why perhaps so much energy went into beautifying the main venues—e.g., painting the stairwells again and again—and so little into ensuring that the art could go up or that toilets worked during installation.
  6. Collective stress. The difficult situations everyone faced in the weeks and days leading up to the Biennale, combined with ad hoc decisions, meant that no time or thought was left for what an event like this is surely about: exchange, sociability, dialogue between artists from the region and beyond. “Our Biennale,” the sign on the exhibition site proudly reads. Despite this claim, the KMB failed to connect us even to each other, except in solidarity over its repeated failings.

It is this possessive “our,” first written in the name of the artists’ participating in the Biennale, that we now claim and write from. We reject the explanation offered by the KMB, namely, that the ongoing dysfunction is a consequence of the special regional conditions here, from unionized labor to local weather systems. We reject the notion that chaos is inevitable with artist-led endeavors.

The form, scope, and scale of the Biennale could take many different approaches, from more modest architectural refurbishments, to differently scaled or timed exhibitionary modes, to more considered production that is locally developed on-site. This would mean that some of the extensive shipping and contracting efforts would simply not be needed, allowing KMB to focus on what is realistically possible in Kochi, rather than always fighting its context. “Our Biennale” implies a different imaginary, a different way of working. It calls for a complete reform of the Biennale’s conduct, and of the current team in charge.

On December 13, 2022 a group of forty artists present in Kochi met with trustees, advisors, and management of the Biennale Foundation and expressed our significant concerns about the ways things had unfolded and subsequently been handled, or in many cases simply ignored. In doing so we highlighted many of our individual as well collective experiences and also presented some ideas. We emphasized the need to urgently overhaul the management as well as the approach and intention of the Biennale Foundation, for the sake of the Kochi-Muziris Biennale’s survival. We have appealed to the Board to conduct a thorough review of the current Biennale with respect to the many issues raised. We await their analysis and response.

As we write this, many of us are working to support each other in realizing the new opening on December 23. We are also aware that our recent experiences are not entirely unique and that previous editions also faced similar struggles. Nevertheless, each time, the artists believe that the next edition will be better. Now, real changes must be realized institutionally, creatively, and as a community.

We ask the Biennale to move away from a system of accepted dysfunction, structural helplessness, and fear of failure, towards an environment of mutual respect, honesty, and care towards artists, curators, and all production workers. This is what we expressed in our crisis meetings with the Biennale Foundation, and we remain committed to these demands.

We hope that the issues we have raised help to ensure that the coming months focus on positive encounters and meaningful dialogue between all, via this exhibition that has, indeed, brought us all together.


Ali Cherri, Lebanon/France

Amar Kanwar, India

Amit Mahanti, India

Amol K Patil, India

Ana Hoffner, Austria

Anushka Meenakshi, India

Archana Hande, India

Asim Waqif, India

Basma Alsharif, Palestine/Berlin

CAMP, India

Claudia Martínez Garay, Peru/Netherlands

Debbie Ding, Singapore

Decolonizing Architecture Art Residency, Palestine, France/Poland/Canada

Forensic Architecture, United Kingdom

Frances Wadsworth Jones, United Kingdom

Gabriela Löffel, Switzerland

Gabrielle Goliath, South Africa

Haegue Yang, Germany/ South Korea

Hilde Skancke Pedersen, Norway

Iman Issa, Egypt/Us

Ishan Tankha, India

Jackie Karuti, Kenya

Jason Wee, Singapore

Johannes Heldén, Sweden

Jumana Manna, Jerusalem/Berlin

Ketaki Sarpotdar, India

Lawrence Lek, United Kingdom

Martta Tuomaala, Finland

Massinissa Selmani, Algeria/France

Melati Suryodarmo, Indonesia

Min Ma Maing, Myanmar

Neerja Kothari, India

Nepal Picture Library, Nepal

Philip Rizk, Berlin/ Cairo

Pio Abad, Philippines

Priya Sen, India

Priyageetha Dia, Singapore

Rita Khin, Myanmar

Ruchika Negi, India

Sahil Naik, India

Samson Young, Hong Kong

Sandip Kuriakose, USA

Shikh Sabbir Alam, Bangladesh

Shwe Wutt Hmon, Myanmar

Susan Schuppli, United Kingdom

Tenzing Dakpa, India

The Orbita Group, Latvia

Uriel Orlow, United Kingdom/Portugal

Vasudevan Akkitham, India

Ximena Garrido-Lecca, Mexico City

Yohei Imamura, Japan

Zina Saro-Wiwa, UK/Nigeria/US

Contemporary Art
Biennials, Indian Subcontinent

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